Out are Cincinnati and Tennessee. Virginia and Arizona are long gone.
And after Kansas State defeated Kentucky, 61-58, on Thursday, all that remains of the South Region is Bruce Weber’s 9th-seeded Wildcats and No. 11 Loyola.
The South is in shambles. The brackets have gone wild. March has gone mad.
Kansas State – which lost to Tulsa, got beat by West Virginia by 38 points and took a 19-point home L to Texas Tech – is not only just one win away from the Final Four. The only thing that stands between them and San Antonio is a double-digit seed. A double-digit seed with a glass slipper and a 98-year-old nun in its corner, but a double-digit seed nonetheless.
Even for an event known for its unpredictability, hailed for its chaos and beloved for its ridiculousness, this year’s South Region is a little nutty.
It’s see the first-ever one-seed – what’s up, Virginia? – go down to a 16, Arizona’s wild and weird season upended, and both Cincy and Tennessee got got by mid-majors. One region packed a ton of entertainment into just 13 games.
Kansas State’s journey to the Elite Eight hasn’t been a glorious march to the Promised Land. It’s been a testament to survive and advance. They toppled No. 8 Creighton in the opener, ruined UMBC’s story in a nasty 50-43 affair and then proved to have just a little bit more than a critically flawed Kentucky team. And they did most of it without one of their best players, junior forward Dean Wade, who continues to battle a foot injury.
Against Kentucky, Kansas State shot just 35.2 percent from the floor, committed 30 fouls and put UK on the line 37 times. Three of their players fouled out. Wade didn’t play in the second half. Kentucky shot 52.6 percent in the second half.
Still, Kansas State is in the Elite Eight, and Kentucky isn’t.
It’s a stunning result, powered by 22 points from Xavier Sneed, 15 Kentucky turnovers and a non-existent transition offense from John Calipari’s team. Barry Brown’s 13 points – including two critical ones in the final seconds – did plenty to help, too.
For Kentucky, it’s a disappointing end to a frustrating season. The South Region had unfurled a red carpet to San Antonio for them. A 12, 13, 9 and 11 were all that stood in their way. And the nine got ‘em.
Kentucky teased at being able to come together into a team commensurate with its individual talent in the three weeks as it won the SEC tournament and blasted Buffalo in the second round, but the flaws that forced them into four-straight losses in February never went away. They remained, and they were enough to keep Kentucky from a rock fight against a so-so Kansas State squad.
So now Bruce Weber is back in the Elite Eight for the first time since taking Illinois to the title game in 2005. It’s been a bumpy ride for him in Manhattan since splitting a Big 12 title in his first season in west Kansas in 2013. There were plenty of forceful voices who wanted him out not only after back-to-back NCAA tournament misses, but after last year’s First Four team.
Now, if he can beat Loyola, it’s a second Final Four appearance.
That may seem bananas, but it’s the South Region. Bonkers is business as usual.